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Posted 29/10/2022 in Experiences

Little Vicki's Cruise to the Baltic, Norway and Iceland

Little Vicki's Cruise to the Baltic, Norway and Iceland

Island Princess - Princess Cruises

This article is about personal experiences on an 'Island Princess' cruise in September  2022. It details onboard experiences and a day by day (over 29 days) appraisal of wheelchair accessibility and facilities in the various ports of call.   Island Princess - Cruise Critic

Day 1 - Embarkation in Southampton, England.

Unfortunately the 'Medallion App' promoted by Princess, failed to function for pre-boarding check-in before departure. 

The Medallion App Video

Check-in staff at Southampton efficiently handled the check in of our Mobile Hoist (Hoyer type) , liquid food for 30 days, an all terrain buggy  and all baggage. The all terrain buggy was used in addition to the wheelchair so that we could negotiate cobbled streets in comfort. We were shown to accessible cabin  number E505, an outside cabin with obscured view (lifeboat outside). There are 16 balcony cabins for wheelchair users, but only 8 have accessible balconies. There are also 4 suites, but sadly the balconies of these are not accessible to wheelchair users. Click the blue button 'Our Listing of Island Princess'  below for details.

   Our Listing of Island Princess           

Day 2 - At Sea

The cabin was sizeable enough for our party of three. The Island Princess does offer accessible cabins for up to four people. The ship is very tidy in public areas, however the cabins are starting to show their age.

Onboard at last!
Cabin E505 - spacious enough for a manual wheelchair
Cabin E505 bathroom with useful drop down seat
Cabin E505 - Choice of double or twin beds in most cabins
Cabin 505 - accessible shower controls
Cabin E505 - space for a mobile hoist
Cabin E505 - level access but watch that door when the ship rolls!
Island Princess does not have automatic doors on the main deck into the café
There are no automatic doors onto the promenade deck 7

The cabin was sizeable enough for our party of three. The Island Princess does offer accessible cabins for up to four people. The ship is very tidy in public areas, however the cabins are starting to show their age.   Our Listing of Island Princess        

Day 3 - Skagen - Denmark   Skagen on Wikipedia 

Princess offered a shuttle bus service into town, but not accessible to permanent wheelchair users. However it was a short walk into town, with the majority of pavements smooth with mainly dropped kerbs. The 'Delichon Delta' all terrain buggy for adults with a disability was an absolute must when it came to negotiating rougher areas such a parkland tracks.

En Route to Skagen Lighthouse
Not easy to get lost!Island Princess in the Background
Smooth WalkingPlenty of Bikes for Rent! The wheelchair bike was unfortunately out on hire....

Day 4 - At Sea

A cool sunny day , lovely for a walk on Deck 7, Promenade Deck. Before the ship was refurbished it was possible to do the whole circuit, but Princess added more cabins, so the aft of the ship is inaccessible on this deck, so if you want a good walk just turn around and do it all again.

Upper Decks Offer a Good View with Excellent Screening Against the Wind

A rather strange electrical smell in our cabin E505 was the result of an air conditioning break down. The cabin became very warm; it was eventually fixed at 1am, and we were moved to an adjacent cabin E507 - the bonus was it had a much better view!

View from E505View from E507

The show tonight involved the onboard singers and dancers. The design of the theatre means that all wheelchair users have to sit at the top at the back of the theatre. There is no access to the front. The view is not great as 'safety bars' obscure most people's line of sight.

Companion SeatingAll Wheelchair passengers View the Show from Here
Well Labelled PlacesSeating for Those with Mobility Challenges
Bars are in Line of Sight for Most Wheelchair Users

Day 5 - Klaipeda, Lithuania.     Klaipeda on 'Wikipedia'

A pretty town with an attractive marina. In the main the streets were quite negotiable, though at times it was impossible to avoid cobbles, which seem to be very popular surfaces in the Baltic States. We did encounter some questionable ramps!

Some cobbled areasSmooth tree-lined walk
Fancy this one?Or this?
Pretty marina areaThe one day of the year no alcohol sales allowed. Today is 'Children's Day'.
A short walk into town from the shipThoughtful ramp into the pharmacy

Day 6 - Riga, Latvia    Riga on 'Wikipedia'

The historical part of the capital of Latvia is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and features some fabulous architecture and lots of cobbled streets! Sadly the' Hop-On, Hop-Off' bus is not wheelchair accessible; in any case it is not allowed inside the walls of the historical district. Disability seems to be a novelty with the local population with some furtive sideways glances and little in the way of smiling engagements. The ship docks very close to the city, and it is about half a mile to the start of the historical district and castle. There is a very large market and a good number of pavement bars and cafés.

Hop-on,Hop-off bus is not accessibleShort walk from the port into town
Not really useful....
Click here for information on accessible public transport in RigaShip is not far from the castle and old town
Beware of cobblestones....Plenty of smooth pavements
Pavement caféIndoor market - fabulous vegetables
Cake?Or cheese?

Day 7 - At Sea

Another relaxing calm day at sea. Cabin E507 seems to have its own problems - drain smells, lack of cold water (always luke warm - Princess provided us with bottles of water) and a raised lip into the shower which grounded our mobile hoist until it was fixed. Plenty of room in the bathroom for a hoist, and good under bed space for the hoist legs. When taking a mobile hoist, if you are used to tiled or wooden floors at home, deep carpet takes some getting used to!

We spent the day exploring the ship and assessing whether the pool hoist allowed access into the swimming pool and the hot tub. The majority of the ship's reception staff were not aware that the ship possessed a pool hoist and we had to educate them by taking photographs and showing them! When working, the hoist allows pool access but both batteries were flat so the equipment could not lift at all. There is no pool lift access into the indoor pool. The table tennis tables are on an upper level in the indoor pool area, but not accessible to wheelchair users.

Table tennis is not accessibleIndoor Pool
Outside PoolPool Hoist being wheeled into position
Hoist not usable as both batteries flat...

Day 7 - Helsinki, Finland    Helsinki on 'Wikipedia'  

The ship docked about 1.5 miles from the city centre, and Princess Cruises provided a shuttle bus (most were accessible) at a round trip price of 10 Euros each . Instead of taking the bus we took a smooth pavement walk to the No.6 tram stop. As the ticket machine was not functioning, we had a free ride to Helsinki's Central Station. At Enable My Trip we are always keen to explore accessible hotels etc when we come across them , and we were outside of the 'SCANDIC Grand Central' hotel. This group is well known to us as offering some of the best accessible facilities in Northern Europe .Explore Scandic Hotels

Despite the hotel being an older building , Scandic have overcome access challenges in an ingenious way. Apparently SCANDIC can provide mobile hoists in most but not all of their 280 hotels.

Grand Central Hotel Helsinki - Front EntranceGood signage
Up the rampInto the lift and...
Through the restaurant into the lobby.

Helsinki is a very accessible city with good public transport which includes trams and buses, wide streets with plenty of dropped kerbs.

Tram stop No.6Good level access
Accessible Shuttle BusA few cobblestones to negotiate
Questionable ramps make another appearance...Fancy a reideer hot dog?

Day 9 - Tallin, Estonia      Tallin on 'Wikipedia'  

This morning we have had our bathroom problems sorted out as best as Princess Cruises can manage. Drain cover removed by maintenance (it was cemented in) and a thorough clean up. A piece of semi-circular plywood has been inserted under the carpet so that the mobile hoist doesn't get grounded every time it is moved in and out of the bathroom.

The port area is around a 20 minute walk into town, however accessible shuttle bus (at 10 Euros each round trip) were provided. There are lots of cobbles in Tallin, so the  'Delichon Delta' buggy was invaluable. Most if not all buses in Tallin are accessible. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and possesses some beautiful architecture. Apps on mobile phones which use maps are great, except when it comes to using a wheelchair. Some of the routes we were offered had steps...

Short walk to the city
Older trams are not accessible........newer ones are.
Plenty of cobblestones- every downpipe (e.g. of the right) runs into a deep ridge which can severely impede wheelchair progress!Easy access into....
.....helpful tourist officeMap routes on your phone don't always work in practice if you are in a wheelchair.

Day 10 - Stockholm, Sweden   Stockholm on 'Wikipedia' 

The political situation in Russia has resulted in the cancellation of a visit to St Petersburg; as an alternative we have an extra day in Sweden tomorrow. The decision today is whether to use the all-terrain buggy or the wheelchair (wheelchair is better on public transport).We opted to use the wheelchair as all public transport is accessible in Stockholm. It is less than a 5 minute walk from th ship to the ferry 'EMELIE' a day ticket for three was £12, and it takes passengers to central Stockholm as well as the Viking Museum, 'The Museum of Wrecks' and 'ABBA - The Museum'.  There are good walking routes throughout Stockholm and all these attractions are fully accessible. When using a wheelchair, beware of rainwater gulleys in the pavements.

Approaching the cityGood central docking area
Here comes EmelieGood access onto the ferry
En routeMap and timetable
Pay attention.....
...those gulleys can catch you out!

For ABBA Fans - The Museum!

A short walk from the ferry to the official ABBA museum - fully accessible to wheelchair users, including the interactive facilities (you can join the holograms on stage and join in to 'Dancing Queen' or 'Mama Mia' !). Carers are admitted free.

You can stay over too...Some of the many.
Frida's early days.......and Agnetha.
Very good wax imagesJoin in and sing along!
Mama Mia......Waterloo...

Day 11 - Stockholm, Sweden

Our second day in Stockholm with glorious sunny weather. Today we took the free accessible shuttle bus downtown to just outside the Grand Hotel. From here it was a pleasant flat and smooth walk along the water front to the 'VASA  Museum'.  Vasa Museum Website Here is an amazing preserved ship from the 17th Century - she sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628 and it is remarkably intact. All levels and functions are fully accessible to wheelchair users.

Accessible Shuttle BusSmooth pathways between the cobblestones
Do Ikea now do pedaloes?Scale model of the 'Vasa'
Amazing carved detailRestored detailing

Day 12 - Visby, Gotland, Sweden   Visby on 'Wikipedia'

Visby on the island of Gotland is a popular holiday resort, with attractive buildings and a great deal of history. The town is quite hilly in places, with a good wide promenade with cobbled streets in the old town, so we opted to use the all terrain buggy today.. The hop-on hop-off bus is accessible to wheelchair users. 

Weather is not so good in Visby today.Good smooth coastal paths
The botanical gardens are fully accessible.....with slopes to reach the upper levels.

Day 13 - Rønne, Bornholm, Denmark   Rønne on 'Wikipedia'

Princess cruises kindly arranged an 'ADA Shuttle' for us as the general shuttle buses were not wheelchair accessible. Arranged for 10.30 then rescheduled till 14.00 we decided it was too late in the day, so we declined the offer. It was quite a short walk into town on the level, although dropped kerbs seemed to be surprisingly sparse in places. 

Local styleAccessible Public Transport
Possible not quite dropped enough.Cobblestones are very popular in Denmark

Day 14 - At Sea

Save for the port talks, and some quizzes, there were not many activities today that attracted us, so we spent the day relaxing and taking a few general photographs around the ship.

Day 15 - Copenhagen, Denmark with a side trip to Malmö, Sweden.   Copenhagen on 'Wikipedia'                                                   Malmö on 'Wikipedia'

The Island Princess is scheduled for a late departure today at 9.30pm so a full day was planned. Three other cruise ships were in port at the same time, so it was quite busy with shuttle buses, and difficult to know which one to select. The hop-on hop-off bus was fully accessible. As no shuttle buses were in sight by the time we left the ship we decided to walk the 2+ miles to the nearest metro station at 'ORIENTKAJ', where the shuttle buses terminated. It was a flat reasonably smooth walk but boringly uniteresting. The metro station was full of cruise passengers trying to work out the self-service ticket machines. After a while we boarded the train using a day ticket (DKR90 for three) we headed to Central Station. We took the train across the Øresund bridge to MALMO. The Copenhagen-Malmo train was busy with spaces for wheelchairs, bikes and pushchairs.There was a large gap between the platform and the train and no staff assistance visible. Passengers kindly assisted us to board the train. On the return journey staff assistance was evident after we blocked the doorways!

Good Space on the Hop-on , Hop-off busEasy metro access
Dangerous gap on the Malmo trainNo railway staff to assist
More cobblestones...We decided to take the 'Flixbus' back to Copenhagen but it was not wheelchair accessible.
Help provided by railway personnel on the journey back to Copenhagen Bit of a busy carriage!
Safer this time with railway personnel assistanceBit of a queue for the lift
Back in CopenhagenNot the best portrayal of this city
More cobblestones meant that we had to use the cycle path. Sorry cyclists!Easy trip back from the metro ststion to the ship on accessible bus No.25

Day 16 - Fredericia, Denmark       Fredericia on 'Wikipedia'  

This historical town in Jutland offers the wheelchair user an easy walk into town with few cobbles. The centre is a short distance from the ship, so there is no need to use accessible buses etc. We took the all-terrain buggy to negotiate the parkland pathways.

Short walk into townLovely views from the 'ramparts'
Exhibit of a classic 'Opel Kapitan' courtesy of the local car club

Day 17 - Kristiansand, Norway    Kristiansand on 'Wikipedia'  

Kristiansand is a very attractive large town with lovely flat walking areas, a pretty marina and an excellent tourist map to help you get around. The tourist 'land train' is not wheelchair accessible.

Moose greetingLovely walking route by the coast
Keeping the place tidyAttractive view into town
Tourist land train does not have provision for wheelchair usrsBeware of cobblestones in the old parts of town
No accessible excursions are offered by the cruise lineLocal buses have full wheelchair access

Day 18 - Haugesund, Norway      Haugesund on 'Wikipedia'

The ship was docked on a island with a fairly short steep bridge across the water. Princess Cruises provided a courtesy shuttle bus which was accessible. The small folk museum was only accessible at entrance level - 70% of it was not, as there was no elevator. The town is quite hilly in places with short sharp inclines. It was possible however to take a scenic walk to the site of the statue of 'Harald Fairhair'. The town features one of the 'THON HOTELS' which have 80+ properties throughout Norway. Some of the larger hotels in the group have 14 wheelchair accessible rooms. The Thon Hotel Saga in Haugesund featured two accessible rooms. The tourist land train is not accessible for wheelchair users.

Accessible Shuttle  BusView from the bridge into town
Tourist 'train' is not accessible.Front entrance
Raised lip into the bathroom in one room at the Thon Saga Hotel   Reasonably spacious accessible room
Better bathroom accessReasonably level threshold
Folk Museum AccessAccessible local buses
An undulating walk to reach the statue of 'Harald Fairhair'Good, level pedestrianised ares

Days 19 & 20 - Ålesund, Norway     Ålesund on 'Wikipedia'  

The weather was cold and wet, and extremely windy out in the North Sea, our next port of call was to have been Lerwick in the Shetland Islands but it would have been too rough and dangerous to land there as the ship would need to use the tender system (ship's lifeboats). We spent an extra day in Ålesund while the weather calmed down, leaving at midday into a rough sea - lots of motion on the ocean. Ålesund is a very hilly town with lots of cobblestones - not presenting its best face in dismal weather.

Useful Map Local troll isn't bothered by the rain.
ÅlesundLocal buses are accessible

Day 21 - At Sea en Route to Iceland

The sea has calmed down a bit today, but the promenade deck on deck 7 remained closed due to high winds. Both swimming pools have been emptied also.

Day 22 -  Seyðisfjörður,  Iceland      Seyðisfjörður on 'Wikipedia'  

There is no  cruise terminal in this small town of 700 inhabitants, and all shore visits are by 'tender' (using the ship's lifeboats). It is stated by all cruise operators that passengers in wheelchairs cannot be carried on tenders. In our experience, if we use the all-terrain buggy, normally the crew are helpful as it is easier to load than a wheelchair, although strictly speaking they are not obliged to help. Island Princess had a lift down to the tender boarding area, which made things a lot easier. Due to the crew's 'can do' attitude, we were able to go ashore, but we know that this is not a given, and never guaranteed. The town was featured in the BBC 'Scani-Noir' series 'Trapped', and is known for maritime links to the Farøe Islands and Denmark via the Smyril line ferry.

Lift down to the tender embarkationSteps are the usual way down
Ramp onto the tenderSafely on board
ArrivalA beautiful clear day
Time for a beerThe journey back onboard

Day 23 -  Akureyri, Iceland         Akureyri on 'Wikipedia'  

Today was chilly and there was a short flat walk into town - however, most of it seems to rise away into the hills. We decided today that we would seek out one of the many thermally heated public swimming pools in Iceland. The closest was about 1.5 miles from the ship and up a very steep hill, so we were pleased to have the electrically assisted power pack, which fixes onto a manual wheelchair.

Initially a flat walk into townThen the hills take over
Welcome at the pool building entrance by the local duck population.Entrance into the special disabled changing room. This is a private area not occupied by others until you are finished.
Good showering area, changing table but no hoist.Ample shower space. There is a mobile shower chair if required.
Poolside Lift onto pool lidoPool lift enters swimmer into a covered area
Hot tub and outside pool in the distanceSafely in the water
Outside pool and children's areaIce plunge pool if you dare!
25 metre poolFriendly local in town

Day 24 - Grundarfjörður , Iceland      Grundarfjörður - Guide  

Today our visit to Grundarfjörður is also by tender, so we were expecting the same process we had experienced when we visited Seyðisfjörður a couple of days before. The supervisor of the team on this occasion refused to load anyone in a wheelchair onto the tender due to 'regulations'. Although it is clearly stated that wheelchair passengers are not permitted to use the tenders, the situation could have been handled in a more empathic manner. In the end only one of ambulant family members went ashore.

Local  bus is accessible
Even this small town has a thermally heated pool - sadly not accessible.....plus a couple of hot tubs.


Day 25 - Reykjavik, Iceland       Reykjavik Guide      Reykjavik on 'Wikipedia'

Today members of Enable My Trip had a planned meeting with the destination management company 'Iceland Unlimited', whose offices are a short walk from where the ship docks. We discussed with their managing director, Lisa, how EMT could work with Iceland Unlimited in sharing the knowledge about their accessible tours, vehicle rental and hotels. After the meeting we headed to the thermally heated public swimming pool at short distance away. After the swim, and once you download the local bus App, we planned a trip to the 'PERLAN MUSEUM' which is a showcase of the natural wonders of Iceland. It includes an ice tunnel, and a 360 degree northern lights/planetarium experience. The whole museum, which is over 5 floors is totally wheelchair accessible, as are the buses. Beware of eating lunch in the café though. Two soups with bread = £37!

Location of 'Iceland Unlimited' - accessible tours and hotelsHop-on, Hop-off bus is accessible.
Entrace to Laugardaslaug Swimming PoolThere are two accessible family changing rooms
Complete with mobile hoist, sling and changing table
Easy pool accessPool hoist is mobile
Free heat from the thermalsOlympic Sized 50m pool
Plenty of spaceShower chair available too
Perlan Museum entranceAll 5 Floors are wheelchair accessible
Café area - food is expensive!Excellent view of Reykjavik
Seabird habitatAccessible Ice Tunnel 
Two accessible buses back to the shipA short distance from the bus stop

Days 26 & 27 - at Sea (en Route to Invergordon)

A couple of days relaxing in some decent weather after the rain and drizzle in Reykjavik.

Day 28 - Invergordon, Scotland  Invergordon on 'Wikipedia'  Inverness on 'Wikipedia'

It was an easy walk from the docking area to the town centre. There are wheelchair accessible buses and a train service to Inverness. In view of the number of passengers leaving the ship, it was a better option to take the train. The station is a 15 minute walk from the ship. It was a bit busy on the train with ourselves, a motorised scooter, fold up wheelchair and a baby buggy! We had a good journey to Inverness and back - about 1 hour each way. The railway personnel were extremely helpful with the ramps for us to get on and off the train. We were treated to some bagpipe music in town, and we had a chat with the local tourist office about accessible accommodation in the area; they printed out a list for us and we will be researching these properties for possible future inclusion on our website.

Train was busy - but space availableEntrance to the Mercure Hotel in Inverness. Not the easiest access.
Hop on/off bus in Inverness Popular today
Flavour of ScotlandExcellent help from train staff

Day 29 - Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England    Newcastle on 'Wikipedia'

The ship docked at the Port of Tyne, and Princess Cruises offered a free shuttle bus to the local Victoria station; there is a nearer station in North Shields. Our journey started with a 30 minute walk from the ship , with a few gradients, to the ferry terminal from North Shields to South Shields. On arrival in South Shields it is a pleasant flat walk into town and through South Marine Park , then along the coastal path with sea views where a variety of cafés and bars are in evidence. The walk to South Shields Metro Station was reasonably flat, but all metro services had been replaced by the 900X bus service (track improvements apparently) which takes passengers to Hewell Metro Station for the journey to Newcastle Monument Station, for the city centre. Eldon Square shopping centre is just around the corner as is Grainger Street which contains the Old Victoria Building. This area has some uneven pavements with a generous use of cobblestones. The metro journey back to Victoria Station for the Port of Tyne involves wheelchair passengers having to exit from a different side of the station than where the free shuttle buses depart from . This involves a longer walk, using the road bridge to cross the railway lines to where the free accessible shuttle buses wait to take passengers back to the ship.

Port of TyneFerry from North Shields to South Shields
Easy accessGradual slopes
No Metro trains for a while - replacement bus serviceOn the '900X' bus to Hewell Metro station
Back from the city centreNot too busy on the Metro

Day 30 - At sea ;  Day 31 - Cruise ends in Southampton

Summary:  This cruise was in fact two 'back-to-back' cruises. One for 16 days that started in Southampton and finished in Copenhagen (Baltic States) and the other commenced in Copenhagen and finished in Southampton (16 days - Denmark, Norway & Iceland). The ship's capacity is 2200 passengers and on the first cruise there were about 1400 passengers. The second cruise however had over 2000. This made the second cruise feel very cramped and busy . Wheelchair users should be aware that there is no access to the front of the theatre, and that there is a lack of automatic doors, making getting around a bit laborious at times, having to ask for assistance to access certain deck areas and the self-service restaurant. There was a distinct lack of knowledge amongst the reception staff about the existence of the pool hoist. As with most cruise companies, the accessible excursions on offer were virtually non existent. We have found it is better to do your own research and use public transport where possible or use a  local 'destination management' company who may specialise in accessible trips. Some basic maintenance issues onboard, are unfortunately overshadowing the passenger experience on Island Princess with air conditioning problems , cold water that is warm in the bathrooms, and smelly drains. The entertainment offerings were mediocre at best, with a couple of bright spots. Overall, the trip was a success because of the itinerary. Sadly, Island Princess will not be on our 'cruise again' list. 

Baggage at Southampton including the folded 'Molift Smart' hoistDelichon Delta buggy is useful for carrying extra stuff including the oxygen concentrator